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EDITORIAL COMMENT Fiji Times March 1, 2000

Yesterday’s oil spill off Taveuni is a timely warning for everyone.

It is ironical that a situation so potentially dangerous to the environment should occur just before a major police operation to stop litterbugs.

Fortunately the crew of the oil tanker moved quickly to contain the spill and minimize its effects on the sea and marine life.

Initial reports show that the tanker grazed a coral outcrop. This apparently led to the spillage.

All oil tankers are equipped with material to contain environmental disasters. Their crews are required to be intimate with standard safety procedures implemented in the unlikely event of a spillage. Evidently these skills were put to use yesterday. These measures are sufficient in the event of a minor accident.

But what happens if there is a larger spill? Do the authorities concerned have the expertise to take care of such a situation?

Until now marine oil spills in local waters have been in the Suva or Lautoka Harbors.

At both ports the National Fire Authority and Maritime Ports Authority of Fiji have emergency crews trained to move in and cordon off the area. They have acquitted themselves well in emergencies.

Fortunately, however, there has never been a disaster of such magnitude as to require a major operation.

It is unlikely that the combined efforts of oil companies, fire officers, the navy and port workers would be able to contain a major spill. This is an opportune time for environmental protection agencies to take stock of facilities available to them.

There is obviously a need for trained staff and modern equipment to be available if the need arises. Coordinated teams with proper equipment to handle disasters must be ready to move at a moment's notice.

A management plan must be put in place to deal with such emergencies.

The environment ministry, oil companies, fire and port authorities, the navy and the aviation industry should help to fund and implement this plan.

Fiji is surrounded by sea. This, the reefs and marine creatures and our beaches are our major assets.

In the case of the Taveuni spill, it is fortunate the damage caused was minor.

A famous dive destination, Taveuni is known worldwide for its pristine waters, beautiful coral and white sandy beaches. Destruction of this valuable national asset would have been the greatest disaster of all.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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